Cruel Summer – Part 1

Tuesday 8 March 2016

‘I love the smell of the gum trees when it’s hot. It’s like they get stronger the hotter it gets.’ Pete inhaled, put his hands on his hips as he did so, and took in the vista from the viewing platform.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah,’ he replied, ‘yeah, it certainly is.’

‘I told you it was.’

‘How’d you come to find this place, Sophie?’ He couldn’t tear his gaze away from the view of the valley below. Eucalyptus trees as far as the eye could see, rolling hills occasionally visible from under them, and all manner of other flora in there too.

Sophie leaned forward to look over the edge of the platform. It was a decent drop to the ground. She wasn’t entirely sure how far below the platform she’d find the ground, but she knew it was far enough to cause serious damage if she, or anyone else, were to slip and fall.

‘Just exploring one weekend, trying to find new hiking trails, and we came across a couple of guys who’d spent a week trekking in and around the area. James and I decided we’d check it out, and we came back a couple of months after meeting the guys. Spent the weekend hiking around, and vowed that we’d come back until we’d hiked every inch of this place. And then, of course . . . ’ She looked off into the distance as she remembered James.

‘Yeah . . . of course . . . sorry to bring that back up.’

‘Ah, it’s okay, Pete. He’s gone, and nothing will bring him back. I figure the only way to stay close to James is to keep talking about him, keep remembering what it was like when he was alive.’

‘Still, I should have realised that you’d discovered the place with James.’

She smiled, and wrapped her arm around Pete’s shoulder. ‘Really, Pete, it’s okay.’

* * * * *

4 January, 2012

James Waters kicked off his boots, slumped on the sofa, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He stretched out as far as he could, and groaned in delight as every muscle pulled taut, and released the pressure that had built up in his body from being on his feet, and in the heart of the action all day.

‘Not sure how much longer I can pull one of those shifts, Chief. I’m getting too old for it.’

‘You and the rest of the boys.’ The Chief, Tom Case, sat down beside James, and stretched out his own sore muscles. ‘What I’d really like though, is for the cops to find the prick that keeps lighting these fires. The sooner he gets taken off the streets, the better it’ll be for everyone.’

‘You’re preaching to the converted, Chief. But you know how these things go – the cops’ll catch him, he’ll be charged, go to court, and he’ll get off with a slap on the wrist, and a please don’t do it again. In the mean time, how many people will lose their homes, their businesses, animals, livestock, families . . . how many people will die because of the stupid actions of this shithead?’

‘That’s the question, James. How many people will die? If I get my way, none because we’ll get on top of this before the fires get too big. What I’m concerned about is if this idiot decides that one fire in one location isn’t enough, and he goes with multiple ignition points, and stretches us to our limit. The weather over the next week or so is not looking favourable for us – high temperatures, possible storms with lightning strikes. The fuel load around here is huge, and it’s just a matter of time before it goes up.’

James nodded. Every firefighter in the unit, every firefighter in the region was aware of the massive fuel loads, and the density of the bushland, and every firefighter knew what that ultimately meant. If a fire took hold anywhere in or near the valley, it was highly probable that it would spread, and spread fast. With inaccessible terrain in some parts of the valley, the brigade would be hard pressed to prevent the fire from spreading beyond their jurisdiction. They’d have to call in state support, perhaps even national.

‘Pray that it doesn’t happen, Chief,’ said James.

‘Believe me, I do. Every single day.’ Tom yawned. The day’s work had taken it out of him, just as it would have exhausted his men. ‘Get yourself home, James, and get some rest. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need to be on the ball for the next few weeks at least. Go on, get home.’

‘Don’t need to tell me twice.’ James slapped Tom’s outstretched leg, and reached for his boots. He struggled with the laces, his fingers stiff and sore from battling with the equipment all day, and finally managed to get the laces tied. He hoisted himself from the sofa, and shuffled away. ‘See ya, Chief.’

‘See ya, James. Say hi to Sophie for me.’

‘Will do.’

Forty-five minutes later, James curled up in bed next to his wife.

‘All good?’ whispered Sophie.

‘All good. Couple of units still out there mopping up, but I think we got to it before it managed to take hold and spread.’

‘Deliberate?’

‘Yep.’

‘Again?’

‘Yep.’

‘Shit. When are the cops gonna get this asshole?’

‘Dunno. Soon I hope.’

He laid awake long enough to hear Sophie’s breathing change, indicating to him that she’d manage to go back to sleep. It didn’t take him long to join her in slumber. In his dreams, flames caressed his fire unit, bubbling and peeling the paint from the panels, trapping him and his team inside. Smoke filled the cabin as the flames consumed the vehicle. Sophie would hear the whimpering of her husband of nine years, and know that he was in the depths of that same nightmare that often plagued his sleep. And still, as much as she tried to convince him, James would never find another job. Firefighting was in his veins.

. . . To be continued . . .

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About Danielle

I like to write. What more is there to know?
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